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The musical Gigantic takes a lively look at teens and body image
Yes, it's a spiky, funny show with a kicking pop-rock score, but Gigantic is also a musical with genuine things to say. That's largely because Randy Blair, who wrote the lyrics and co-wrote the book, has first-hand experience with the subject matter.
Set at a weight-loss camp, Gigantic follows a group of teenagers who are not only navigating their bodies, but also dealing with hormones, peer pressure, and the adolescent desire to fit in. Blair remembers it well.
"I went to a weight-loss camp—it wasn't quite as intense as the camp in our show, it was more of a day camp—but the idea of doing a musical set in a place where a group of people would have to deal with their body image issues was appealing to me," he says. "When you're a teenager, it's a confusing time anyway, so when you're put in a situation where you have to be thinking about your body all the time and be concerned about that, it compounds a lot of issues. That was certainly a difficult period of time for me."
Now playing at Theatre Row in a production from the Vineyard Theatre,Gigantic first appeared in 2009 at the New York Musical Theatre Festival. Back then, the show was called Fat Camp, and while the creative team has stayed in place – Blair co-wrote the book with Tim Drucker, and Matthew roi Berger wrote the score – many other elements have changed . For one, Blair himself originally starred as Robert, a camper who vehemently wants to leave until he meets a girl.
"You can age out of things very quickly!" he jokes, but he's happy to see Max Wilcox take on the role, since it highlights one of his goals for the production. "I wanted to write a show to give young character actors a chance to play something other than what they would be typically asked to play in a musical."
Bullying has also become a much more prominent topic, and Blair incorporated related themes for the latest version. Without spoiling too much, the new title refers to a viral video that the "cool kids" post on YouTube in order to traumatize one of the campers.
There are lighter references, too, including a Hamilton parody that arrives when a character insists he's related to William Howard Taft. "It was just too good of an opportunity to pass up," says Blair, who is also a writer for truTV's manic laughfest Billy on the Street.
Theatre in-jokes aside, however, the heart of the show remains with the kids and their struggles. As part of their research, Blair and the team spent the night at the Catskills outpost of Camp Shane, a chain of weight-loss camps, and spoke with the campers about their experiences. "It's a really interesting culture," Blair says. "They're constantly being made to exercise and move their bodies, but they're also trying to figure out how to get a candy bar or how to make out with their crush."
Some of the teens recently saw the Vineyard's production and gave notes on which scenes to keep, including the campfire make-out scenes. But Blair hopes they left with more to think about.